Amidst the post-war chaos that rains down around them, a controlling man and a desperate woman must choose between life and love.
Book One of the Devils on Horseback series.
Nate Marchand grew up as the only son of the town drunk. As a Confederate soldier, he found that order in the chaos was the only thing that kept him sane. Numbers, information, keeping everything in its proper place became second nature. The chaos of the war and its aftermath sent him into a rigid state that he couldn't seem to overcome.
He and his friends, nicknamed Devils on Horseback, leave behind the aftermath of war to start fresh in the west. Their new business venture flounders and desperation drives them to take whatever work they can.
The Devils are hired to remove the Taggert family from land claimed by Samuel O'Shea, the largest landowner in Grayton, Texas. When he meets Elisa Taggert, his entire world shifts beneath him. Attracted, bewildered, and off-kilter, Nate ignores his conscience in favor of his wallet.
The simple task of removing a woman, a boy, and an old man, along with a small herd of cattle, resembles a Medieval siege. Nate wrestles with what he knows is right with what he must do. Will his love for Elisa overcome his need for survival?
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September 24, 2007
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Excerpt from Nate by Beth Williamson
Elisa Taggert stood in the corner of the store with her fists clenched. She told herself to relax and take a breath, but it was hard. So hard. What she really wanted to do was follow Samuel O'Shea out that door and put a bullet in him. Or two.
He dared pretend he hardly knew her, or that he hadn't stolen her father's land right out from under him. O'Shea treated her like a goddamn stranger!
The bell tinkled over the door and a man walked in. Elisa judged him to be in his mid-twenties, with dark hair settled under a dark brown hat. Gray trousers marked him as an ex-Confederate soldier, although his jacket was of good quality. Elisa noted the bulge of a gun on his left hip. Wide shoulders filled out the jacket nicely. His fingers were long and twitched as if he needed to be moving constantly.
His gaze swung to hers and she could see the hunter within him. The moment his dark eyes touched hers, she felt a jolt go through her from top to bottom. Her heart started pounding and her palms grew moist. Actually, to her shame, they weren't the only moist part of her body.
Sweet Mary, he was beautiful. A sharp chin with an outline of whiskers framing the deep cleft in the middle. A long, aristocratic nose sat between the darkest, deepest eyes she'd ever seen. Eyes that knew pain, misery and perhaps joy. Elisa's entire world shifted slightly under her booted feet and she knew an eternal moment of uncertainty.
Who was he?
He blinked and the spell between them snapped. She stepped further into the shadows of the corner and he paused before walking to the counter to talk to Marvin. Elisa pressed her hand to her chest to push on her racing heart. What the hell was wrong with her? A handsome stranger glanced at her and she turned into a blithering, foolish woman?
"Good afternoon, sir. Nate Marchand at your service. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind posting this advertisement in your store."
His voice was like hot honey on a biscuit, warm and smooth. A shiver licked up her spine at the southern drawl and the gentlemanly tone. Most definitely a southerner, likely from Alabama or Georgia. There were plenty of them in Texas--like ragweed, they just kept popping up.
"Advertisement for what?" Marvin asked. He was one of those people she wasn't sure was for her or against her. She'd known Marvin nearly all her life, but he refused to take a side in the battle for her father's land. That landed him square in her suspicious group of folks.
Elisa walked toward the shelf of canned peaches to peek through at the two men. The stranger stood at least a head taller than Marvin, who was a short, balding man with barely enough shoulder to shrug. His watery eyes hid behind thick spectacles. Then he did the one thing that really irked her--he licked his finger to wipe down his eyebrows, which seemed to have a life of their own, wiry little buggers.
"D.H. Enterprises. We're new to town and we'd like to advertise our services."
Oh, God, that voice. It was wreaking havoc on Elisa's equilibrium. Every time he spoke, another bolt of awareness ripped through her. It was disconcerting and downright annoying. She didn't know this stranger from a hole in the ground. Why should he affect her so strongly?
"What kind of services?"
A minute sigh drifted from the stranger's mouth and she sensed his frustration at repeating the same information. Likely in every town he and his "Enterprises" had passed through.
"Anything that needs to be done. My colleagues and I are available immediately."
"Well, I dunno, stranger," Marvin hedged. "Sounds a mite bit shady to me."
"Mr. O'Shea told me to tell you it was okay to post it."
The stranger's words rippled around her and anger replaced her fascination with him.
"What business do you have with Mr. O'Shea?" she snapped as she stepped out into full view.
Marvin's eyebrows went clear to his hairline and he skittered backwards like a bug.
The stranger turned toward her and his dark gaze swept her up and down. Noted the trousers, the old, faded calico shirt, the dirty neckerchief and scuffed chaps. Not to mention the battered hat that sat on her head with a big hole through the center of it. Her damned body betrayed her by warming to the touch of his gaze. She tried to clench her muscles and will away the feelings, but it was no use. She was aroused, dammit to hell.
"Ma'am." He tipped his hat. Elisa caught a glimpse of dark, wavy hair that looked as soft as satin. "Mr. O'Shea is a prospective client."
That did it. She stomped forward until she was nearly nose to nose with him, well, nose to chin anyway.
"That makes you an enemy of mine. Anyone who does business with that son of a bitch deserves what they get. More than likely a bullet in the back and empty pockets." Elisa glanced at Marvin. "Let me know when that new tack comes in, Marvin."
The older man nodded, his gaze swinging back and forth like a clock pendulum between Elisa and the stranger.
"Strong words, ma'am," the stranger said. "I don't rightly know what put the bee in your bonnet, but I don't believe I am anyone's enemy in Grayton."
Grayton. A town named after her grandfather. A town that allowed the largest landowner in the county to steal the land her grandfather had rightly claimed fifty years ago.
"Wrong." Elisa turned and headed toward the door. One strong hand clamped on her arm, stopping her exit, and almost stopping her heart. She thought meeting his gaze gave her body a shock. Touching him nearly gave her apoplexy.
"Let go of me," she ground out through clenched teeth, hoping the baggy shirt hid the telltale peaks of her nipples. She had the crazy notion of grabbing him and kissing him until neither one of them could see straight.
"Pardon me," he said as he released her arm. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry you believe I'm your enemy. Far from it. My name is Nathaniel Marchand. My friends call me Nate."
Nathaniel Marchand. Nate.
"And you are?"
Elisa realized she stood there staring into his bottomless black eyes and hadn't responded to his introduction or his apology. She cursed her freckled complexion and hoped a flush hadn't crept up her cheeks.
"No friend of that bastard O'Shea. I'll tell you this, Mr. Marchand. If you do business with him, you are definitely my enemy."
With that, she forced her feet to keep walking out the door and back to the ranch. She didn't trust herself. Mr. Marchand was like a box of chocolates she wanted to savor, bite by bite, but if he was in business with O'Shea, she'd do well to keep her mouth to herself.